Most people who know me know I don’t drink, but not everyone knows why. For certain people, I simply say, “I don’t drink now because for a while I drank too much.” I give them a knowing smile, as if I’m still recovering from my last bad hangover but will soon be back at it again, abusing my liver with the best of ‘em. At hearing this, they tend to relax a bit. The tension is markedly reduced, as is my interest in that person. I mean, seriously: what do they have against my liver?
Telling people that I regularly attend twelve-step meetings is a bigger hurdle still. Whoa. She really did have a problem. She joined a frickin’ cult to get over it. Even worse - ohmygod, ohmygod - it’s a spiritual cult. She believes in God. In these moments, I sorely wish I could roll up a sleeve and reveal the dark mark, touch it lightly with the tip of my finger, and say: Yes, I do believe in God. And I’m summoning him right now. (Fade to black.)
Once this shock from my being actively "in recovery" has died down, I hit them with an even weightier revelation. For me, these meetings aren’t a temporary fix. I’m not just going for a couple months on an as-needed basis while I “sort out my issues.” I try to go three times per week. I intend to go for the rest of my life. And even though I don’t feel like drinking, I go.
Fielding the curious questions of others is a good exercise for me. It's an internal thermometer: what is my current level of shame versus acceptance regarding alcoholism? And it reminds me of my why. Particularly when I'm finding it hard to make a meeting, it's helpful to hear myself explain the very reasons I need to go.
In the summer, it's harder to get myself there. It would be one thing if meetings were held where I’m likely to be anyway - for example, in the middle section of canoes, where they stick people who have been irresponsible with paddles - or in the “sale” section of Marshalls, where they stick rompers for which no torso was short enough - but no. Meetings in the summer tend to be held indoors, in rooms with chairs and air conditioning, just like any time of year. Getting to a meeting in the summer takes intentionality, and in the summer I fall a little short on that.
In the winter, when it’s less than zero degrees and there isn’t much to do but complain about the cold, it’s easier to attend meetings. Indeed, even if I’m not particularly interested in recovery that day, I’d like to bitch about how bad the weather is. Misery loves company, and your girl loves her some misery. (Oof. Does that make me an extrovert? Recalculating.)
Often, when I go longer than usual without a meeting, I'm on the lookout for evidence that this is sustainable. Hmm...looks like the world didn’t cave in. Maybe I never needed three meetings per week? I seem to be doing fine with three meetings in a month. Of course, “doing fine” can be defined as loosely as it needs to be. Perhaps it means “not lazing around in burning buildings while nursing a flask of Listerine." Defined in this way, I'm doing fine 9 times out of 10. Unfortunately, this definition is conspicuously silent on the topic of treating others well or having grace or patience with, ok, literally anything.
When I go a while without a meeting, it's easy to forget how much better they make me feel. When I attend regularly, solutions are more intuitive. Specific, unmerited anxieties stick around for ten minutes as opposed to ten hours. A missed deadline or a poorly worded email still merits an eye-roll, but my conclusion is more often people are different than oh my god, people are actually and literally insane, I hate them.
Everyone is sponsored differently in recovery, and many are met with guidelines and suggestions, some of which feel more like rules and conditions. That has not been my experience. I was allowed to determine for myself how many meetings I attended, how and when I worked the steps, and how frequently I contacted other women in recovery. I can't speak to the benefits of a stricter type of sponsoring, but I can see the clear benefits of my own.
Most importantly: I never forget why I'm doing this. It isn't out of deference to another fallible human, or to some undefended structure or rulebook. Rather, I do what I do because I've learned through experience that it works. For me. When I go six days without a meeting, the racket in my brain provides ample evidence that I need to be going to more meetings. When I go two weeks without talking to my sponsor, it's hard to find my footing; a biweekly text message isn't going to cut it. In early sobriety, the emptiness I felt even while attending meetings meant that I had to work the steps, too. For me, learning through experience is infinitely more powerful than the alternative.
If I call more women, it’s because I’m going nuts. If I attend more meetings, it’s because I’m acting nuts. And if I work the steps, it’s because I don’t want to stay so damn nutty. Experience is what got us here. Experience will keep us here. And that’s why I still go to meetings.